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Credit Card Sign-Up Bonuses Pave Way to Free Summer Travel

Credit Cards, Promos, Rewards Credit Cards
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credit card signup bonus summer vacation

Summer is around the corner, so now is the time to start planning your annual vacation. With the help of a credit card sign-up bonus, you might be able to get a portion of that trip for free.

Here are three of the Nerds’ favorite cards if you’re looking for a big sign-up bonus and stellar ongoing travel perks.

If you’re a frequent flyer aficionado: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card is one of the best cards out there if you’re a member of several popular frequent flyer programs. With it, you’ll earn 2 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent on travel and dining in restaurants and 1 Ultimate Rewards point per dollar spent on all other purchases.

Generally, Ultimate Rewards points are worth $.01 apiece, but their value increases by 25% when redeemed for travel through Chase. Also, you’ll be able to transfer your points to participating frequent traveler programs at a 1:1 ratio. This includes Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards, United MileagePlus, British Airways Executive Club and others, giving miles hounds many ways to use their points.

Also, the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card charges no foreign transaction fees and comes chip-enabled. This will make using your card overseas simultaneously less expensive and more convenient.

Now for the exciting part, the sign-up bonus: With the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, you’ll Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $625 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. That’s worth $625 in travel if you book through Chase, and possibly more if you’re good at hacking frequent flyer award charts.

That hefty sign-up bonus could go a long way toward offsetting the cost of a summer trip. Just keep in mind that the card charges an $0 for the first year, then $95.

If you’re a budget traveler: Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard®

The Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard® is an excellent choice if you prefer purchasing flights and hotel stays through discount booking sites, like Orbitz. With it, you’ll earn 2 miles for every dollar you spend. Miles are worth $.01 apiece, but when you redeem them, you’ll get 5% of your rewards back.

In addition, cashing in your miles is a piece of cake with the Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard®. You’ll book your travel as you normally would with the card, then go online and redeem your rewards for a statement credit against those purchases. Because discount travel sites are typically coded as “travel,” you’ll be able to score a great deal on your trip and use your credit card rewards to pay for it.

Like the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, the Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard® charges no foreign transaction fees. It also comes chip-enabled with PIN capability, so it’s ideal for international use.

Its sign-up bonus is impressive: Enjoy 40,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 90 days — that's enough to redeem for a $400 travel statement credit toward an eligible travel purchase. Its annual fee is $0 for the first year, then $89.

If you can get away only for a weekend: Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express

The Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express might be just the ticket if you can manage to skip town only for a weekend or two this summer. With this card, you’ll earn up to 5 Starpoints per dollar on purchases at participating SPG hotels, 2 Starpoints per dollar at Marriott Rewards properties, and 1 Starpoint per dollar on all other purchases.

The Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express provides an exciting sign-up bonus: Earn 25,000 Starpoints® after you use your new Card to make $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months. Terms Apply. Because award nights start at only 2,000 Starpoints for a weekend stay, this could be plenty to get you a few free, short getaways this summer.

You can also use your Starpoints to book a flight or transfer them to over 30 participating frequent flyer programs, among other redemption options.

The Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express charges an annual fee of $0 for the first year, then $95. With no foreign transaction fee, it’s not a bad card to use abroad, even though American Express may not be accepted as widely outside the U.S.

Lindsay Konsko is a staff writer covering credit cards and consumer credit for NerdWallet. Follow her on Twitter @lkonsko and on Google+.

Image via iStock.